The Chaos

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
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Surrealism, folklore mix in unforgettable disaster fantasy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Although filled with surreal episodes and characters, The Chaos does present an emotionally realistic portrait of high school life in Toronto. The novel's characters are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. World folklore, especially Caribbean and Slavic traditions, plays a significant role in the plot.

Positive Messages

In its portrayal of Toronto pushed into surreal disaster, The Chaos emphasizes the importance of family and community, of empathy and compassion for others, and of learning from the past while refusing to be trapped by it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Scotch begins the novel unfocused, undisciplined, and self-absorbed. But as The Chaos progresses, she begins to put her own problems in perspective and learns to treat other people with more compassion and empathy.


The Chaos is a disaster novel, but a very strange one. Characters are attacked by formerly inanimate objects, and pedestrians are wounded in the wake of battling prehistoric beasts. The most intense sequence comes when Scotch is pursued and attacked by Spot, Auntie's imaginary pet come to life. Although Scotch is threatened by a cannibalistic witch, there's little person-on-person violence.


It is clear that Scotch is sexually active, but she has little time in The Chaos to do more than flirt with her ex-boyfriend and an older bar patron. At her previous school, she was accused of being a "slut" and a "skank."


Very frequent profanity, used both in emotional outbursts and somewhat casually. "S--t" and "f--k" are employed dozens of times each. Milder expletives such as "damn," "hell," and "bitch" also appear, but less frequently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Scotch's older brother is on parole for drug possession. He takes her to a bar that serves alcohol, but she doesn't partake.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Chaos is a well-written and imaginative fantasy novel that mixes surrealistic situations with characters and themes from world folklore. Its protagonist, Scotch, is forthright in her attitude toward sex (and was bullied because of it at her previous school), but she does little more than flirt during the course of the novel. There's lots of profanity (especially "s--t" and "f--k"), and many minor characters are injured during the mayhem that ensues. Characters are attacked by formerly inanimate objects, pedestrians are wounded in the wake of battling prehistoric beasts, and Scotch is pursued and attacked by an imaginary pet come to life. Although Scotch is threatened by a cannibalistic witch, there's little person-on-person violence.

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What's the story?

Having been bullied at her previous school, Sojourner \"Scotch\" Smith dreams of winning a dance competition and earning enough money to move out of her parents' house. But when she accompanies her older brother to an open mic night, she's caught up in the mayhem that ensues when a volcano erupts in Lake Ontario and the rules of physics seem to be upended across Toronto. With her brother missing in a hole in the floor and mysterious patches of tar-like secretions spreading across her own body, Scotch must make her way to safety across a city in which Sasquatches now walk the streets, mythical creatures fight to the death, and everyday objects can suddenly turn deadly.

Is it any good?

THE CHAOS is far from a run-of-the-mill "plucky teen faces the apocalypse" novel. Author Nalo Hopkinson spends a lot of pages building an intriguing and emotionally complex backstory for her protagonist, and when the surrealistic disaster occurs, Scotch is the anchor that holds the freewheeling narrative together. Some readers may find the plot a little too random, but those who can go with the flow of non-sequiturs mixed with folkloric archetypes will find The Chaos rewarding and unforgettable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it's like to be of a mixed racial heritage and to follow more than one set of cultural traditions. How do Caribbean and Slavic traditions affect the plot of The Chaos?

  • How does the apocalyptic vision described in The Chaos compare with that of other books you've read or movies you've seen?  What elements are different or the same?

  • Why do girls in middle school and high school often ostracize and bully those they consider "skanks" or "sluts"? What can be done to stop this kind of behavior?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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